The strategy to minimize the Chinese presence on the East-West Highway continued for a long time. India was displeased that in 1985 a Chinese company won a global bid to build the Kohalpur-Banabasa road section in the far-west under a World Bank loan investment. The southern neighbor put pressure on Nepali rulers to scrap the tender awarded to the Chinese company and ended up investing 500 million Indian Rupees of its own money. Harish Chandra Mahat, then minister for construction and transport, resigned after the annulment of the Chinese contract. But Nepal benefitted, as it did not have to bear the burden of another foreign loan.The ‘Mount Everest dispute’ had been settled with King Mahendra’s visit to China. But the Nepal-China boundary agreement was overshadowed by the controversy that the Kodari Highway generated. As per the boundary accord, which King Mahendra and President Liu Shaoqi had signed on 5 October 1961, Nepal and China agreed to erect border pillars in a manner convenient for both the countries. They agreed to take the historical boundary as a base, but to adjust it on the basis of joint inspections, equality, friendship, mutual interest, and cooperation.
After Mahendra returned from China, a felicitation ceremony was held in his honor in Tundikhel on 27 October 1961. “We are proud to be able to say that Mount Everest, which the whole world seems to be eyeing, falls squarely inside Nepal,” declared Mahendra in a long speech he gave in Tundikhel.
Indian newspapers extensively covered the story on the Nepal-China border accord and weighed in on how easily China had agreed to it. Their view was that China should sign a border agreement with India the same way it had done with Nepal and Burma.
King Mahendra was delighted that he was able to resolve the Everest dispute. Previously, no one in Nepal had paid attention to the northern frontier; everybody took it for granted that the mountains belonged to Nepal. But controversy emerged when China claimed Everest; such a claim was also shrouded in mystery. There was a long discussion in Nepal’s parliament in April 1960 over the Chinese claim and the threat posed by the spread of communism.
Then Prime Minister BP Koirala had said in the parliament that the government would try to bring Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai around on Everest during his impending visit to Nepal. “We have told them that Everest belongs to us. Zhou Enlai is coming to Nepal. I don’t want to say anything other than to request everybody not to spoil the political environment. It won’t be appropriate to get worked up at a moment like this,” Koirala had remarked. Nepal had not expected a border dispute with China before the invasion of Tibet.
Mount Everest had shot to fame following its first ascent by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary on 29 May 1953. Dispute arose when China placed it within its territory in a map it published in 1954. Some in Nepal were even considering staging a demonstration or waving black flags during Premier Zhou Enlai’s visit. But Prime Minister BP Koirala had said in the parliament that such acts would be unbecoming. And no protest took place when Zhou Enlai came here on 22 April 1960. Instead, the slogan ‘Chini-Nepali bhai bhai, let Nepal-China friendship last forever’ was chanted.
During Zhou Enlai’s visit, Nepal and China agreed “to resolve through normal diplomacy any disagreement or conflict that may arise between the two countries.” They also agreed to form a technical committee to settle the boundary disputes. The agreement helped clear up the differences between Nepal and China.
Next week’s ‘Vault of history’ column will discuss the ‘Ramailo Mela Kaanda’, an incident involving the vandalism of a Chinese stall at a fair in Bhrikuti Mandap